Saturday, November 26, 2005

He Dared to Challange Power and the Official Consensus: Part One

He Dared to Challenge Power and the Official Consensus: Part One
By: Jack Dalton

“I have learned from first hand experience that war is the destroyer of all that is good in the world. It turns our young into soulless killers and we tell them they are “heroes” when they master the art of killing.” Conscientious Objector and Prisoner of Conscience, Sgt Kevin Benderman

It has been said of Sgt. Kevin Benderman by those in command and control at Ft. Stewart, GA., after Kevin publicly announced his refusal to deploy to Iraq a second time, that his action was “endangering” those from FT. Stewart who would be deploying to Iraq. Officers at FT. Stewart, as well as some senior NCO’s (non-commissioned officers for you non military types) along with the Hawks in the blogging community, were incessant in their condemnation of Kevin; with all of them articulating the same theme of how Kevin was endangering those who would go to Iraq by his [Kevin’s] refusal to go. Kevin is now in a military prison for the next 15 months. (For full details and timeline on and about Kevin’s position as a Conscientious Objector, trial and subsequent events, I strongly urge you to see:
BendermanTimeline )

Captain Schenk, S-2 at FT. Stewart, GA. (S-2 is Army military intelligence), was busted for stealing. He was stealing the armored plates for the body armor vests the troops from FT Stewart would be wearing in Iraq. Capt Schenk was then selling those plates on E-Bay for between $3,000 and $4,000 a piece. Capt. Schenk was sent to jail for 45 days behind his theft of and sale of the protective gear the troops from FT. Stewart would need in Iraq.

Now I ask you, between the two men, who in fact was it that endangered the troops: Kevin, by his refusals to be a part of needless and senseless killing, like shooting kids just for climbing on a wall? Or Capt. Schenk by stealing and selling, for personal profit, those things needed to prevent injury to the troops?

For me, this presents an unanswered question: Why does a man who refuses to be a participant in what were illegal orders, in an illegal war, which was based on provable lies and deceptions, spend 15 months in a military jail; while a thief, a commissioned officer at the same base at the same time, gets caught selling the troops protective equipment and only gets 45 days in jail? Something is seriously wrong with this picture to say the least! In fact, why is Kevin Benderman in a military jail at all? What was Kevin’s “crime” other than having the courage to act on his principles, his convictions, and then through proper military channels, filed application as a Conscientious Objector?

A Partial Explanation:

When Sgt Kevin Benderman requested a change in his status as a Conscientious Objector, his command at Ft Stewart went absolutely ballistic, which is putting it mildly. The command structure of Kevin’s unit, the 2-7 F Co, 3rd ID, knew that they had to make an example of Kevin so as to discourage others at FT Stewart from following Kevin in his resistance to this war as a CO. Re-enlistments were, and are going down drastically; recruitment was down and decreasing further. In short, the Army was, and is, having critical manpower shortages and the last thing the Army needed, or needs, is a growing chorus of active duty war resisters—CO’s. So the Army command at Ft Stewart set about trying to “prove” that Kevin was making “disloyal” public statements. If they could succeed with this tactic, they would be able to not only shut Kevin up, but send a message to others that if you do not shut up and just do what you are told, your next residence will be a jail cell.

Regardless of what the “formal” charges which were leveled against Sgt. Kevin Benderman—“Missing a Movement”; regardless of what Kevin was “formally” convicted of; regardless of what Kevin was “formally” sentenced for by the Army at his Court Martial at Ft Stewart, GA., on July 29, 2005, one thing is certain: Sgt. Kevin Benderman, having been to Iraq once, who was now speaking out in opposition to the war in Iraq, as far as the Army was concerned, had committed a court-martial offense and they were going to “get” him [Kevin] at all cost.

According to the Army’s own manuals, it is a court-martial offense to issue public statements that are critical and or denouncing one’s “commander-in-chief” more so in a “time of war.” With the military falling in step with the Bush/Cheney team of “Mayberry Machiavelli’s” it could not allow anyone, especially a voice as loud, clear and articulate as Kevin’s to continue. Kevin had to be silenced, least others follow suit and also start saying no—thereby bursting the bubble of the Washington consensus of high troop support for this war of choice in Iraq, among other issues about just what are we doing in Iraq.

The Army’s Biggest Problem However:

The biggest problem comes in over the simple fact the Army could not, as much as it wanted, and tried, they could not court-martial Kevin for disloyal statements; as Kevin, at least initially, was not speaking out publicly against the war or the Bush Administration. Kevin
wrote one letter to Bush in Nov of 2004 but that was months after he had filed his CO application. Somehow it ended up on the ‘Military Family Speaks Out’ web-site and it was that letter the Army attempted using to prove Kevin was disloyal.

However, when the Army lawyers at Ft Stewart forwarded those charges of “Disloyal Statements” to JAG (Judge Advocate General), JAG wrote back and essentially told them at FT Stewart they were out of their minds, as there was absolutely no evidence what-so-ever that Kevin had ever made a disloyal statement. Basically, dissent in the Army is considered disloyalty. How absurd! So, the Army at FT Stewart started trolling around to find other false and phony charges they could level at Kevin in the effort to shut him up and make an example of him to keep others in line.

From the outset, Kevin was not railing against the Administration or even the premise for the Iraq invasion. Kevin did not apply as a CO to protest the war, he applied as a CO as an individual who had made the conscious decision that he, as an individual, could not participate in that which war is, mass killing on a grand scale; with the majority of those being killed innocent, women and children, the aged, the infirm—as is true in all wars. Innocents are killed 10 to 1 when compared to “troops” on all sides.

It was not until, during the months between Kevin filing as a CO and Nov 2004 when Kevin wrote his letter to Bush, that Kevin began seeing all of the evidence that was coming out, pretty much confirming the lies and deceptions behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It was not until well into 2005, and based on increasing amounts of irrefutable evidence of the grand deceptions of Bush/Cheney & Co., that Kevin began to challenge the very premise of this invasion/occupation.

I’ve learned a lot of things about Kevin and Monica over the past 15 months or so. We have spent so many, many hours upon hours on the phone. Kevin Benderman is one of the single most deliberate, deliberative, seriously critical thinking men I know. I’ve yet to witness Kevin making a snap decision, or a decision based on emotional response. Nope, not Kevin, when Kevin makes a decision, such as he did when he applied as a CO--or as now, speaking out publicly in condemnation of what Bush/Cheney has unleashed--it is only after much deliberative thought after disseminating serious amounts of factual information.

Kevin has, in my opinion, been able to do what most still have yet to achieve—a good balance between brain and emotions. Emotionally charged decisions always end up a disaster, as the emotions over-rule the brain and critical thinking. When Kevin, or Monica for that matter, makes a decision it is not an emotional response, it is a decision that is well thought out over a period of time, and which is based on empirical evidence and fact; not like the fantasy based decisions coming out of Washington, D.C. today. “That which is emotionally rooted is intellectually insoluble”--something to contemplate. Kevin and Monica Benderman understand that concept fully. Back to where I was at before getting side-tracked.

Having been to Iraq once; having been witness to the tragedy, the senseless brutality, the horror that is war, Kevin had no doubt that war was not and is not the answer to our problems. It was hearing orders given to shoot children if they were to climb back up on a wall, among many other things Kevin saw and heard, which turned Kevin against this war—against war and killing.

Kevin, like all who go into the military, have some idea of the “rules of war” and basically what constitutes a war crime. After being in Iraq, Kevin came to understand, like so many others that have seen the brutality and insanity that is war, that war itself is the ultimate “war crime” and it was this, as a Conscientious Objector that Kevin was speaking out against.

“All Kevin did was speak to the fact that war was not the answer - and that he had seen enough of war to know that he was going to not participate in it any longer.” So as much as the Army wanted to try and use that to court-martial Kevin for disloyal public statements, it/they couldn’t. So the Army’s next step was to trump up an entirely different set of charges, which is pretty much what then happened to Kevin. I know I’m repeating myself here, but this is so important, it bears a bit of redundancy.

The way I see it, that is why Kevin Benderman is serving time in a military jail at FT Lewis, WA. For the Army, Kevin was a threat, as he openly articulated what so many were thinking and feeling but afraid to say openly, in part due to the threat of court-martial hanging over their heads for speaking out publicly. If Kevin was not silenced, openly and publicly by the Army, others might also shed their fear and end their silence. Then like Kevin, also speak out in opposition to this war in the public forum.

But, and I must emphasize this, it was not until well after Kevin had filed as a CO that he started making any public statements against the war in Iraq or the Bush Administration. Kevin did not start making such statements until after much information and evidence came to public awareness about just how and why the invasion of Iraq even took place. Kevin is way too cautious and deliberate in his thinking and decision making to ever take the chance of making a “snap” decision. So, contrary to what the Army has stated many times, Kevin’s speaking out against the Iraq invasion itself is relatively recent. And it came only after much “evidence” as well as much very deliberate contemplation and serious prayer.

Kevin is speaking out against the invasion and occupation of Iraq now due to the simple fact there is now irrefutable evidence that it was and is wrong. That it is being conducted for every reason other than any of the stated reasons, and has no purpose other than continuing to get a lot of people killed needlessly with absolutely no end in sight.

There is no doubt in my mind the “official consensus” of
high troop morale is on its face a lie. I’ve spoken with way too many military and veterans organizations, and have received mega-hundreds of emails from active duty military in the past couple of years, with the numbers increasing this year—all saying the same thing, our people in uniform are in serious trouble as morale is going thru the floor! No one knows what the “mission” is past just kill, kill, and kill some more—in between the dying that is; and all while like us that were in Vietnam, just fighting to stay alive and get back home. How can we allow anyone to go to jail for refusing to participate in this insanity? To me, that defies all logic and reason.

Kevin, the Military and Conscientious Objector Declarations:

“In a small, quiet courtroom, on the Ft. Stewart military installation, the stage is set. One soldier who, after firsthand experience with the destructive force of war, decided to take the Ten Commandments at their word – “Thou Shall Not Kill” – and use the rights given to him to declare his conscious objection to war, to no longer be in a position to voluntarily have to kill another human being, is now on trial for not wanting to kill.

The Army has removed itself so completely from its moral responsibility, that its representatives are willing to openly demand, in a court of law, that they be allowed to regain “positive control over this soldier” by finding him guilty of crimes he did not commit, and put him in jail – a prisoner of conscience, for daring to obey a moral law.

It is “hard work” to face the truth, and it is scary when people who are not afraid to face it begin to speak out. Someone once said that my husband’s case is a question of morality over legality. I pray that this country has not gone so far over the edge that the two are so distinctly different that we can tell them apart.” (Monica Benderman)

The following letter of Feb. 2004 was written to Sen. Chuck Warner by the father of a young man who was in the Marine Corps. While in boot-camp this young man determined that he would not be able to do that for which the Marine Corps was training him—to kill. After much discussion with his family, with chaplains, with his own conscientious, he filed the proper forms and paperwork as a Conscientious Objector—that was in 2004.

What this young man then went thru for the next 11 months prompted his father, an active duty U.S. Navy Captain to write the following; and which I consider to be the single most articulate and well though out statement on the subject of conscientious objectors, as well as how the military does, or rather does not deal with legitimate CO applications and the people who file them.

This has direct application and relevance to what Kevin Benderman has, and is going thru behind his filing the application as a Conscientious Objector and going public with that; as it does with all who make such application in the current “environment.”

Substitute Kevin’s name in this, Ft Stewart and the Army for the Marine Corps and this letter has direct application and bearing on everyone who stands as a CO in today’s military—especially Kevin Benderman, one of the single most ethical, principled and honorable men it has ever been my privilege to know. (The full letter of Feb. 2005 may be read
Here.) Now on to those parts of the letter with direct application to Kevin; which explains how rules, laws, and regulations that are in place for people in the military, are used in very insidious ways to suppress and repress active duty personnel; especially if they have the “temerity” to file as a Conscientious Objector.

"… Additionally, I wanted you to know that Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) is investigating the possibility of preparing and introducing a Bill - to be known as the Military Conscientious Objector Act - that would seek to protect the rights of military members who desire status as a Conscientious Objector.

… there is great opportunity for the military to waste time and money because of our generally negative predisposition when considering these matters. While it doesn't make sense from a personnel management aspect for the Services to make the process to attain Conscientious Objector status easy, the Services could do a much better job of making the process fair - and to NOT treat applicants as though they have committed a crime while working through the process…

… it appears to me that he is judging… qualification for CO discharge on the basis of his own stereotypes rather than any legal definition of conscientious objection. In short… is judging… beliefs and sincerity on the basis of his own ideas rather than any requirements of the regulations…

…The law does not require a conscientious objector to be opposed to all forms of…It requires only that a person be conscientiously opposed to the planned and organized killing that takes place in warfare…

…I am sure that by comparing…the experiences of other CO's past and present, you will quickly see that the process is indeed broken. Not only is the process inconsistently applied, it's subject to the stereotypes/prejudices of the assigned Investigating Officer. While that's a variable that might be impossible to contain, we - the services – could still do a better job of codifying the Conscientious Objector discharge process…

…Military Officers are not trained to make these kinds of assessments. More importantly, line officers are compromised from the start and should not be placed in this position because a positive endorsement on their part is currently culturally unacceptable in the officer corps generally and could impugn the credibility and professionalism of the Investigating Officer specifically…

...Officers will deny this bias and publicly, firmly deny that they are to act as expected. Yet we cannot deny that competition for promotion is keen and an officer's decision to be supportive of a Conscientious Objector while on the cusp of further promotion is an extraordinarily difficult prospect just prior to his 20th year of service when vested in retirement. These are especially difficult decisions when many must ensure they will be retained at mid-career and have a retirement for the benefit of their family - generally, no blemish on an officer's service record is sustainable…"

This makes one wonder why the U.S. Military even bothers to have rules, regulations or guidelines on the what, who, and how of filing as a Conscientious Objector. Especially when looking at how various Officers see anyone within their commands requesting CO status as a threat to their next promotion, as what happened with Sgt Kevin Benderman.

…The value and right to a free conscious, after all, is what this is all about…”

A Brief Look Back:

When Kevin’s unit was sent to Iraq the first time, Kevin, like so many of us from previous U.S. wars, saw the utter destruction caused by our invasion of Iraq. He saw the slip by people around him into complete disregard for human life in their struggle to just stay alive; he saw the slaughter of innocent people; he saw the total disregard and elevation of man’s inhumanity to man; he heard orders to “shoot to kill” even children. He saw, heard, and began to understand that what American’s were being told about what was happening in Iraq were lies; whose only purpose were to keep public approval for this U.S. war of aggression up—deliberate deception. Kevin began to realize, as have so many others, that war is not the answer. And a war based on deliberate deceptions and lies, as is this war of choice that has been unleashed in Iraq, is definitely not an answer to anything.

“He returned knowing that war is wrong; that it is the most dehumanizing creation of humanity that exists. He saw war destroy civilians, innocent men, women and children. He saw war destroy homes, relationships and a country. He saw this not only in the country that was invaded, but he saw this happening to the invading country as well, here in the U.S. – and he knew that the only way to save those soldiers was for people to no longer participate in war. Sgt. Kevin Benderman is a Conscientious Objector to war; and the Army is mad.

Sgt. Kevin Benderman, after serving one tour of duty in Iraq, filed for Conscientious Objector status, his Constitutional right. His commander refused to accept his application and one called him a coward. One chaplain was ashamed of his lack of moral fortitude, another, of higher rank, testified to the true sincerity of Sgt. Benderman’s beliefs, in writing. A military intelligence officer decided that he knew matters of the soul better than a man of God, and recommended to deny the CO claim. Five commissioned officers who had never met Sgt. Benderman agreed with the “intelligent officer” and the claim was denied, twice.” (Monica)

Here in the U.S. there is a “deeply-held belief that no matter what this nations governing body does abroad, no matter how bad what it does may appear, no matter what horror may result, the American government means well;” That the ‘government’ has good intentions and means well; And, generally speaking, the American public wonders why the rest of the world can’t see how “kind” and “generous” and “self-sacrificing” America is and has been. Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with “good intentions.” Who can forget George W. Bush in 2003, when Iraqi’s started standing up to the invasion and occupation of their country and started fighting back saying, “What is the matter with those people, don’t they know how good we are?” Pretty much says it all does it not?

According to Monica Benderman (who is simple one of the 5 most incredible, solid, intelligent, tireless and committed women it has been my pleasure to have met in the past few years) two things took place at the end of Kevin’s “court-martial”: The entire prosecution team, including witnesses, all stood outside the doorway and laughed while Kevin was walking to the van. They wanted to put him in shackles and chains "so that the media could take pictures of him that way" but his supervisor, the man they had placed in charge of that, refused to do that, so Kevin walked freely. This supervisor has been very supportive of Kevin from the start - and continues to be very upset about what is happening, as he knows the truth.

Also according to Monica, among others, photos of Kevin being led out and away after what flimsily passed for a “trial” were plastered all over the walls of the company offices for the Forward Operating Base outside of Baghdad where the 2-7th Foxtrot Company is currently deployed with the caption— “This is what happens if you do not obey and follow orders.” If that is not a threat to those in uniform--telling them, yes it is within anyone’s rights to file as a Conscientious Objector, but if you do this is what will happen--I don’t know what you can call it!

Right now - my husband and I are fighting against this country - for the right to be together - to be US - to have what we have worked on - our relationship - and our private life. It is all we ask - and we will give what we can - we have given what we can - all we want is us - and for the soldiers and their families who have been so severely disrespected to be able to have themselves back again too. (Monica Benderman)

A Few Concluding Thoughts:

Since this nation lost its mind behind Bush & Co and their subsequent “wars of aggression,” those who now make application as a C.O. according to the “rules,” have almost all been criminalized by the military; and in most cases have been imprisoned—as has Kevin Benderman. Who, in my book, is a man of tremendous ethics, integrity, honor, character; and that's why I agree with,
as Norman Solomon has stated, “Kevin Benderman, now in prison, is providing greater moral leadership than any member of the United States Senate.” I would just take it a step further: Kevin Benderman is providing greater moral leadership than any member of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the White House, and the nation as a whole. We would all do well to follow his example, and that especially includes those who are currently on active duty in the military.

Quite frankly, I do not see this Cheney/Bush “War of Aggression” coming to an end as long as they are in office. Like Vietnam, this illegal war in Iraq will come to an end when the troops start putting down the guns and, also like in Vietnam, start openly rebelling against illegal orders given in an illegal invasion and subsequent occupation. Especially when considering the group of thugs, extortionists and criminals that are in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress.

This Kevin Benderman has done already—he put down his gun. As have many others and who have now been joined by the first women in uniform,
Katherine Jashinsky, to openly oppose this war and who has recently filed as a Conscientious Objector.

This much I know: we cannot continue to allow good people like Kevin Benderman to be sent to prison for refusing to be a participant in illegal wars, as we know this one to be. Especially when you consider that many of those making the “rules” that send people of conscience like Kevin to prison are under indictments—criminals sending honest men to prison. Really makes a lot of sense does it not??

This is an email Monica sent to me about life in the RCF at Ft Lewis, per a conversation with Kevin:

"The tables at the RCF mess hall were decorated with cornucopias full of fruit and nuts -- there were candy dishes full of treats in front of every inmate -- and there were three enormous ice sculptures on the serving tables. Kevin talked to one of the cooks who told him that the ice sculptures alone cost almost $1000.00. The inmates were not allowed to eat any of the candy, nuts or fruit.

They have to wait longer to make phone calls home today - the phones near the command center at the front of the facility are off limits to them today because that is the entrance being used by family visitors who are coming to eat with the inmates - and for special military guests. The inmates are not allowed to interact with anyone who has not been approved to come visit them - so they have been kept in hiding with access to the phones only at the back of the facility.

Kevin approached the Colonel who is commanding one of the brigades, I believe the 704th MP Brigade. He told the Col. that they had no business spending almost $1000.00 on the ice sculptures when the showers were not working, the toilets and sinks were backing up and the windows were broken and letting cold air in throughout the living quarters of the facility. The Col's response was that there were two budgets, one for decorations for the mess hall, and one for maintenance, and the toilets were part of the maintenance budget. Kevin said he told him that they needed to cancel the decor budget and fix the toilets.

Kevin also told several that he was thankful for being at the RCF, and that he was sure he wanted to stay now that he had such a beautifully decorated mess hall to eat in. He said he told every commander he could find that he was grateful for his command at Ft. Stewart having lied and manipulated evidence just to put him at Ft. Lewis so he could see everything that he had - he thought he'd seen it all until he got there, and now they had just given him more to speak out about.

Several told Kevin that it was Thanksgiving and that he should give it a rest for one day -- Fools -- "

This concludes Part 1 of what is an ongoing story about Kevin, and about the situation at the RCF, Ft Lewis, WA.—the military’s mini U.S. Abu Ghraib for its own. See:
Torture and Prostitution at Ft Lewis—The Investigation Begins.

For those of you that are letter writers, as am I, here are the addresses of those in command at the RCF, at Ft Lewis. They really do need to hear form as many as are willing to write, which hopefully will be all of you.

Fort Lewis Garrison Commander
525 Replacement
Ft. Lewis, Washington

Fort Lewis Regional Facility
Box 339536
Ft. Lewis, Washington

Kevin Mitchell Benderman
Box 339536
Fort Lewis, Washington

Also See:

Freedom to make a choice.
By: Monica Benderman

The Case of Sergeant Benderman
By: Camilo Mejia

Jack Dalton is a disabled Vietnam veteran, activist and writer who lives in Portland, OR. He was also a contributing writer in the recently released book: “
Neo-Conned! Again”, published by: IHS Press.